Thursday, March 29, 2012
Breakthroughs in pharmacology, genetics, and neuroscience are transforming how society views criminals and thus how society should respond to criminal behavior. Although the criminal law has long been based on notions of culpability, science is undercutting the assumption that offenders are actually responsible for their criminal actions. Further, scientific advances have suggested that criminals can be changed at the biochemical level. The public has become well aware of these advances largely due to pervasive media reporting on these issues and also as a result of the pharmaceutical industry’s incessant advertising of products designed to transform individuals by treating everything from depression to sexual dysfunction. This public familiarity with and expectation of scientific advances has set into motion the resurrection of the penological theory of rehabilitation that has lain dormant since the mid-1970s. The New Rehabilitation that is surfacing, however, differs in form from the rehabilitation of the earlier era by effecting change through biochemical interventions rather than through attempting to change an offender’s character. This raises novel concerns about this New Rehabilitation that must be examined in light of the science that has sparked its revival.